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Haverhill School Voters Reject Fire Upgrades

Haverhill — Haverhill Cooperative School District voters rejected a proposal for state-mandated fire and safety building improvements by only two votes after two newly elected School Board members told residents there might be other options.

Voters easily passed the $13.6 million budget for the 2013-14 school year, but they voted down an article for a foreign language teacher at the middle school and tabled a decision to borrow $100,000 to purchase a piece of property.

After an inspection of Woodsville High School in 2008, the district was told that the building did not meet mandatory state safety and fire regulations. School administrators were told they needed to upgrade the fire alarm system, emergency signage and lighting, among other improvements.

To date, the administrators have addressed most of the requirements, including adding a sprinkler system. Last night’s proposal would have borrowed $330,000 for the district to modify stairways so that smoke didn’t travel to other floors as easily, Woodsville Fire Chief Brad Kennedy said.

Before the vote, newly elected School Board members Richard Guy and John Rutherford told residents that they might have other options.

“This money might be thrown down the toilet,” Guy said.

Rutherford outlined a proposal that suggested consolidation of the Woodsville Elementary School, Haverhill Cooperative Middle School and Woodsville High School. If his ideas were to come to fruition in future years, then upgrades to the high school could become unnecessary, Rutherford said.

“The idea is consolidation. It will offer our children a better education and it will allow a more predictable plan for our tax payers,” Rutherford said.

Kennedy, the fire chief, said he worried that the fire marshal would take drastic action, possibly closing the high school, if the final upgrades aren’t made soon.

“I don’t even know if the fire marshal will give you a variance and I don’t know how long it would be for,” Kennedy said. “If the kids are going to stay there, then this has to be done.”

The article was favored by a clear majority, 67-36, but it needed a two-thirds supermajority to pass, and thus fell two votes short.

School Board Chairman Philip Tucker said after the meeting that he hadn’t heard about Rutherford’s ideas for consolidation until 1 p.m. yesterday, but said he liked the idea. However, it doesn’t solve the mandatory fire and safety issues and if the district decides to consolidate, it probably won’t happen for several years, Tucker said.

After the vote, Rutherford said he was confident that if the fire marshal comes into the school and mandates upgrades immediately, then the district would pass the bond at a special school district meeting.

Voters also tabled a decision to borrow $100,000 to purchase a vacant lot between the Woodsville High School gymnasium and King Street School.

Resident Jay Holden made the motion to table the article after he read a news article that said that School Board members and the owner of the property had not yet set a price and board members believed the sale price could be less than $100,000.

“If you’re going to come before the people with a purchase like that, you need an accurate figure,” Holden said after the meeting.

Voters also rejected a proposal to spend about $64,000 for a foreign language teacher at the middle school with a 33-39 vote. The high school currently teachers French, Latin and Spanish, and School Board member Nicole Horne argued that the earlier a child starts to learn a foreign language, the greater the chances that the child will retain those skills.

“The fear is that if you wait until high school, it’s almost too late,” Horne said.

Besides the budget, voters also passed a three-year support staff contract that will cost $10,845 in the first year.

Rutherford and Guy both won contested races for School Board — Guy won as a write-in candidate — and MaryAnne Aldrich won an uncontested seat.

“It’ll be an interesting year,” Tucker, the School Board chairman, said after the meeting.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.